When it’s chilly outside, the best thing you can do is break out your go-to dutch-oven chili recipe and let it simmer slowly by your campfire.
It’s the perfect way to spend the evening at your campsite.
Whether you’ve got some ground venison from your last hunt or just bought some coarse ground beef from the grocery store (coarse grind makes a big difference), this recipe does the trick to keep everybody warm.
If you want to make your chili hotter or milder, just adjust the amount of jalapeno or cayenne pepper you’re using. Leaving the seeds in the jalapenos will amp up the heat too.
We’ve rated this recipe as EASY due to very few steps that are required. You’ll need to set up your dutch oven for frying initially then reducing the heat to a simmer after you’ve browned your ingredients.
Although I’m a Texan, I put beans in my chili. I’m more interested in flavor than what I’m told I’m supposed to do, and I like beans. The addition of beans makes some purists cry, but sacrifices have to be made—sorry guys.
If you’re a purist and tradition is important to you, or if you just don’t like beans, then leave them out. Nothing else needs to be adjusted.
Amping Up Your Dutch Oven Chili
In making your dutch oven chili, there are a couple of things you can do to amp it up beyond what this recipe calls for. Maybe good chili isn’t enough. Perhaps you need some award-winning ninja-rockstar camping chili.
One thing you can do is trade in the ground beef for minced beef. You can use a cut like beef chuck or even beef short ribs and mince them into 1/4 inch cubes. Just make sure you are using a fattier cut of beef. The fat is where the flavor is. Most of it will render out in the cooking. Be sure that you trim off the bigger chunks of fat, though.
If you go with minced beef, I’d recommend adding about thirty minutes or so to the recipe’s covered cook time. This will help ensure that all the fat correctly renders.
You should also be sure that you buy enough. Once you trim the larger chunks of fat off of your beef cuts, you’ll end up with less weight than you started with. Expect a 15-20% loss for beef chuck, depending on how much fat is on it. You want the final product to weigh as much as the amount of ground beef you’re replacing.
The Maillard Reaction
You can also sear the beef in your dutch oven to get the Malliard Reaction going. This will add an additional layer of complexity to your chili.
After you saute your vegetables, remove them from the dutch oven with a slotted spoon and put them into a bowl. Ensure you’ve got a fair amount of coals underneath your dutch oven, and it’s good and hot. Add a little oil, then take your beef and smash it into the bottom of the dutch oven with your spatula. Let it sear, completely undisturbed, for about three minutes, then flip it and do the same thing on the other side.
Add Some Pork
Pork adds a different flavor profile than beef. I don’t recommend pork by itself because it would be a bit too soft in texture and mild in flavor compared to the beef. Half-and-half is a better option.
Another pork ingredient that is really popular, and has been part of many award-winning pots of chili, is mild Italian sausage. Just remove the casings and cook it with your beef, breaking it up with your spatula as it browns.
Fresh Chile Peppers
Add fresh roasted poblano or anaheim chiles. You can roast poblanos or anaheim chiles (or a combination of the two) over your fire, remove the skins and seeds and chop them up to add in. It’s best to add them about 5 or 10 minutes before your chili is done cooking, or they’ll completely dissolve during the cooking process.
You can also roast chiles under your broiler in your oven at home, peel and chop them, then add them to a resealable container or zip-top bag before your trip.
They also freeze very well.
The quality of the chili powder you use is essential. It can have a significant impact on the flavor of your chili. Avoid using the cheap stuff. McCormick’s Dark Chili Powder is a good all-purpose choice for chili.
Also, chili powder isn’t just one ingredient. It can be made from many different types of dried chile peppers. Mix it up to add some complexity to your pot of chili. One of my favorite chile powders to add in is chipotle chile powder. You can also try ancho chile powder, hatch chile powder (which is made from dried anaheim peppers from the Hatch region of New Mexico), guajillo chile powder, and dozens of others.
Experiment on some half or quarter-batches of chili at home until you find a combination that you like.
Add a Punch of Umami
What is Umami?
We are all aware of the taste categories of sweet, sour, salty, and bitter. Umami is the fifth category of taste. It can be described as brothy or meaty with a long-lasting, mouthwatering, and coating sensation over the tongue.
You can add a tablespoon of fish sauce (yep, fish sauce), which will enhance and deepen the other flavors in your chili. Just don’t use too much, or your chili will end up smelling like feet.
You can also add a spoonful of dark miso paste, which has a salty, tangy, and earthy taste.
I’ve even seen people use dried, powdered kelp for its umami flavor. Careful with this one too. It can quickly overpower your chili.
Minced anchovies or chicken livers can also add an additional layer of umami.
The trick with these umami additions is to add just enough that they’re noticeable, but not enough that anybody can recognize what it is. It should be just a hint of additional umami.
I like to serve my dutch oven chili up with shredded sharp cheddar cheese and regular Fritos (crusty bread, cornbread, or crackers are just fine instead of Fritos). Diced onions or chives also make a good addition.
Explore more dutch oven camping recipes.
Cast Iron Dutch Oven Chili
- 2 tbs vegetable oil
- 1 large red onion – – finely chopped
- 1 red bell pepper – – finely chopped
- 2 jalapenos – – finely chopped
- 1/4 cup chili powder
- 1 tbs ground cumin
- 1/2 tsp cayenne pepper
- 1/2 tsp dried oregano
- 1 tsp salt
- 6 garlic cloves – – minced
- 2 lbs coarse ground beef
- 2 15 oz cans dark red kidney beans
- 1 28 oz can diced tomatoes
- 1 6 oz can tomato paste
- 1 can beer (or water)
Before You Leave Home
- Chop red onion, bell pepper and jalapeno. Put into resealable plastic bag.
- Chop garlic. Put into a separate plastic bag.
- Put all spices into a separate plastic bag.
Cooking at the campsite
- Set up dutch oven for frying (18 briquettes)
- Add oil after dutch oven is hot.
- Add onion, bell pepper, jalapenos, chili powder, cumin, cayenne and salt. Fry until the bell peppers and jalapenos are soft and onions are starting to become translucent.
- Add ground beef and garlic and cook until the beef is browned, breaking the beef up with spoon.
- Add kidney beans, diced tomatoes (and juice), tomato paste and beer (or water).
- Cover and simmer for 45 minutes (maintaining 10-12 briquettes underneath)
- Uncover and simmer for about 1 hour.
- Salt and pepper to taste.